People who know me personally are very aware of the fact that I can be long-winded. If I'm in the right mood, I can talk for hours upon hours. A few years ago, a friend came to visit after I hadn't seen him in a very long time. We talked endlessly for a full day, but in retrospect I suspect that I was doing most of the talking. How do I know? Because that night, as I was going to sleep, I felt a pain I had never felt before. My jaw hurt. The pain was sharp and unmistakable. It stung around my ears, and made yawning or sneezing absolutely painful. I had hurt my jaw from talking too much. Since that day, I've come to realize that this can happen from time to time...and always when I'm around a friend whom I haven't seen in a long time. So whereas before I only thought I talked to much, I now know I talk too much. I have physical proof of it. And what on earth is it that I talk about? For the most part (I've been told), I tell stories. This post itself is comprised of three mini-stories. I seem to have lots of them. I'm sure they're not all great, some are probably downright terrible. I'd like to think that the conversations I have with people are balanced, and that it's not just me telling stories. The pain in my jaw says otherwise. I guess I barely let others get a word in.
Many of the stories that I tell are about my life in Colombia. I know these are good stories, because they very often make people want to go and visit the country where I was born. They "oooh" and "ahhh" as I tell them wonderful things about my upbringing. Some of my other stories, however, often make them recoil in horror or shake their heads in disbelief. One such story, although it ranks very, very low in the "crazy stuff that only happens in Colombia" scale, is about the day that my sister found a large sum of money. Back then, I thought nothing of it. My sister found a manila envelope inside a bathroom stall in of one of Bogota's most upscale shopping centers. It sat partially hidden from view, and had clearly been put there for a reason. I have trouble remembering the exact amount of money that she found, but I would imagine that it was the equivalent of thousands of dollars. Without putting much thought into it, she took the money, split it with her boyfriend and later told my family about it at the dinner table. We were glad for her, and asked what fun stuff they had bought with the money. We all smiled as we heard about her exciting day. We were both happy and envious of her, and that included my parents.
The first time I told an American friend this story, I was amazed to see the reaction the story received. The person's face tightened up with a pained expression, as though they had just mistakenly downed a bottle of bleach. Then there was a loud verbal response, it came in the form of a high pitched voice that is usually reserved for yelling at a toddler who is wondering into traffic. "WHAT? That money was ransom! Someone probably got killed because she took the money!" Believe it or not, that had never occurred to me. I knew, as did my whole family, that the money was for something bad, something illegal. But so much of what was going in Colombia (amidst the positive and the beautiful) was bad and illegal back then. Kidnappings were normal to us. Scary? Sure...but they were commonplace. By the time my sister found that money, my father had been held briefly along with co-workers out in the oil fields where he worked as an engineer. We never thought much of it. Politicians were kidnapped, our neighbor's father was kidnapped, cycling stars like Lucho Herrera and Oliverio Rincon were both kidnapped, as were many comedians, actors, presidential candidates and reporters.
So while you may think that I'm a rather obtuse individual for not having thought of that small detail (that it was probably ransom money), I would argue that I'm merely a product of my surroundings. Where I grew up, you could find large sums of money that were intended as pay-offs or as ransom, nearly every day. Okay, not everyday...but when my sister found the envelope, no one in my family thought much of it at the dinner table. These things simply happened, and you moved on. So what Americans and Europeans would call "weird" or "scary", we merely called "one of the many things that happened on Tuesday afternoon." Now that I live in the United States, the chances of finding large sums of money have largely disappeared in my life. There's no excitement anymore. There's no pay-off money to be found. On the upside, the chance of finding that pay-off money, using it, and thus getting someone killed has greatly lessened. See, you should always find the positive side of things. The bad? You don't get free money. The good? Someone doesn't die.
These days, I have to be content with finding small amounts of money that are not pay-offs or ransom. I seem to find money rather often when I ride my bike. Along with the millions of discarded shoes, lost gloves, car bumpers, headlights, socks, dead animals, crack pipes, dime bags, condoms and other weird stuff that I've seen on the side of the road, I have also managed to find a good bit of money as well. I realized recently, however, that I only find money when I'm climbing. It's as though the cycling gods (who are no doubt Colombian) are rewarding my effort, but more than likely it's because of my low speed in long climbs (let's call it a "steady tempo"). Because the grade is steep, and my speed is slow, I look down more often and more carefully than I would if I were flying downhill.
I've had particularly good luck finding money in one long climb that is part of my daily commute. As a matter of fact, just this week I found a $10 bill there. That's the largest amount of money I've ever found in my life. On this climb, I've now found single dollar bills three times, enough coins to keep the homeless guys around my work happy for the next three years, and now a ten dollar bill. Is this particular street some kind of urban El Dorado? Has an urban Johnny Appleseed-type individual littered this road with money for me to pick up? I doubt it. As I said before, I'm sure it's my low speed that is to blame. So there you have it, another reason to ride slowly. Stop training hard, stop going fast. Slow down, and make some money. Stop pretending that you're a professional, and you will actually get paid to ride. Not a bad deal. I mean, do you think Cancellara has ever found a ten dollar bill while riding a time trial at a grand tour, or while riding solo into the velodrome at Roubaix? I don't think so! But I found ten bucks while riding slowly to work only days ago. So I ask all of you, who is the real winner? Not Cancellara, that's for sure.